Gong Kedak (Malaysia): Operating, maintaining and flying Sukhoi fighter aircraft is a Malaysia-India-Russia "love story", says a senior Malaysian air force official.
Though a three-year trilateral arrangement nears its end, Russian and Indian officials are committed to reinforcing Malaysia`s air defence and combat capability as far as the Sukhoi Su 30 MKM Flanker squadron is concerned.
The assurance came from Russia`s warranty team leader Vladimir Konnov, from aircraft manufacturer Irkut Corporation, and Indian Air Force`s (IAF) chief flight instructor Group Captain KVR Raju.
Konnov stressed the need for the arrangement to continue in some form.
Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) 11th Squadron commanding officer Lt. Col. Mohamad Asghar Khan said Malaysia`s "love story" with Russia and India began in 1994 with the purchase of 18 MiG-29N Fulcrum aircraft under a RM1.3 billion deal, New Straits Times reported.
Asghar said Malaysia`s involvement with the two countries had since blossomed to a "love affair" with the Su-30MKM purchase.
"We have come a long way and hope to reinforce our relationship with Russia and India over the long term to chart our air defence and combat capability.
"I believe strongly in this partnership, especially with the support of the proven Irkut Corporation and India`s Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd in terms of obtaining reliable spares and equipment," he said, referring to the pioneer batch of six pilots, four engineers and 53 technical crew sent to Russia and over 100 technical crew sent to India for training.
Malaysia`s newest air base in Gong Kedak, a town in Kelantan state, is the home of the Flanker.
"This is a strong demonstration of a high level of friendship and diplomacy which is very commendable," said Raju, who leads a team of four instructor pilots, one weapons systems officer, two engineers, 22 technicians and two administrative servicemen.
While the rest complete their two-year tour of duty in July, the IAF pilots will be retained until August.
Raju said the trilateral Russian-Indian-Malaysian collaboration was something unique as it provided a stepping stone for the country to groom its next generation of airmen.
"Thus far, our assessment of the RMAF crew shows they are of an exceptional high standard and I am confident the current crew will pass on their expertise and experience to others to take Malaysia to the next level of competency."
Konnov said that while his team was responsible for the aircraft`s serviceability, performance, snag rectification and technical support, they also ensured the Malaysians mastered the required skills.
"The Sukhoi is a very complex and complicated aircraft to operate. As Malaysia is still in its infancy, it will be wise to retain the Russian and Indian specialists to fully acquire the proficiency and realise its potential."